Baz Lurhmann’s style isn’t for everyone. Expectedly, The Get Down had Lurhmann’s Romeo and Juliet and Moulin Rouge fingerprints all over it. A girl with dreams. The man who loves her. The society keeping them apart. Music. Color. Irony. It’s all there.
If you like your shows dark, gritty, serious and subtle, this may not be the show for you. If you are overly concerned with historical accuracy, this may not be the show for you. If you hate musicals and/or Bollywood movies, this is definitely not the show for you.
If you have an emotional, forgiving heart…
News bites, pop culture and hip hop references are peppered throughout “Where There is Ruin…”, but The Get Down has very little interest in portraying New York City in the ’70s such as it was. It is littered with anachronism, from its slang to its technology. The show caters to those want to experience New York City in the ’70s such as it exists in nostalgic memories. Through a rosy, Vaseline-coated lens sprinkled with disco glitter.
Corrupt political machinations abound, but the real City is run by the young. Gangs are more interested in rap battles than violence. Graffiti artists are mythological vigilante superheroes, running from the law and revered by the people. Subway cars are easels to art, symbols of forward progression.
This is a love story, for worse and for better. Ezekiel (Justice Smith) is a lovesick poet and will do anything – challenge a ninja in Red Pumas, get mouthy with famous DJs, blab his feelings at inappropriate moments – to win his woman. Mylene (Herizen F. Guardiola) is an ambitious songstress and will do anything –dress up in (classy) hoochie clothes, hustle with a pimp on the dance floor, deny all the panting men – to go after her dreams. He wants her, she pushes him away. The least interesting part of this pilot, but important for motivating forces. This love story goes beyond romantic love. It’s about the love between friends. Love for community. Love of art and music and words. Love as an unrelenting driving force behind all motivations is obvious as the subway in this show, but it’s done forgivably well.
Thankfully this show doesn’t become insufferably serious about it. Campy humor, dance offs and fake karate moves pull it back from swirling in its own angst. Mylene and Ezekiel’s friends (hers sexy, his goofy), keep them from setting our teeth on edge. Just when you think you’ve had enough furrowed eyebrows and emotional exposition, there’s a Grasshopper leaping from buildings to keep you invested.
If you like the dubbed Kung Fu movies of old…
The most intriguing love story lies between Shaolin Fantastic (Shameik Moore) – the Lady Killing Romantic – and his Wordsmith. Shaolin may be a graffiti/kung faux artist and right-hand hustler for the city’s female kingpin, but he’d give it all up to be a DJ. Under the careful tutelage of Grandmaster Flash, this grasshopper just might make it if he finds his Wordsmith EmCee. Enter the poet Ezekiel. From the record chase meet cute The Get Down rap battle, this couple was meant to be.
There was no doubt Ezekiel would flub his first attempt at the mic. What no one saw (ie. I didn’t see) coming was Shaolin teaching him how to take down by breakdancing. Moore’s Shaolin is one-part mythical badass, one-part aspiring student, and one-part comedic gold. A good part due to the classic martial arts movie score playing every time he came on screen.
If you love Grease (and admit Grease 2 is a thing)….
This could be The Wiz version of Grease. I expected Ezekiel’s friends to chant “tell me more, tell me more” and Ezekiel definitely “sounds like a drag.” He isn’t comfortable sharing his softer side with anyone but Marlene. And not just to get into her pants. Of course, there is the requisite dance off – disco beats the hand jive any day, in my book. No Grease Lightning but Ezekiel does race his lightning mouth to earn cred.
It’s more than just plot and nostalgia that makes this feel like a musical. The street and school sets and activity seemed like something off a Broadway play. Whether it was a stylistic choice or just a poor use of their high production budget, the aesthetic seems to work.
There also two extensive, extravagant dance set pieces worthy of a musical. This was a very good thing.
Or if there’s just a special place in your heart for Donna Summers and hot pants….
It’s hard to stay in your seat when Bad Girls and Disco Inferno starts playing. The music is one of the best things about this show. With Grandmaster Flash and Nas as music producers, The Get Down promises to feature a good mix of classics and original music. Naturally, there will be a soundtrack. Booty-shakin’ for days.
Fashion is on point. Top contenders this episode were Cadillac’s pimp suit, Mylene’s gold lame dress, Shaolin Fantastic’s red Pumas, and Ezekiel’s uncle’s jacket. Also, anything and everything worn by Mylene’s friends.
… The Get Down may be your jam.
Other Reasons to Watch
People of Color – Almost everyone in this episode was representative of at least one minority. Behind the camera we have Grandmaster Flash, Nas, and Nelson George to name a few.
Limited Jayden Smith – Jayden Smith’s Dizzee is a fairly minor, mostly innocuous character in this episode. The best Jayden is a restrained Jayden.
Jimmy Smits and Giancarlo Esposito — Because they are Giancarlo Esposito and Jimmy Smits.
The Get Down S1E1
This episode was a Spanish omelet with too few eggs. It looks good and is pretty tasty, but doesn’t hold together very well. The cast was surprisingly good and the dance sequences were amazing. If they cut out 30% of the plot and spent more time editing, this could have been excellent. What they did well is right in my wheelhouse, so I’m willing to pick through for what I like and forgive the rest.